If you’ve never been to a Sound of the Rockies Show — and don’t know much about Barbershop — get ready for an experience to remember.
Most people when they envision a large chorus performance tend to imagine formal settings, lofty pieces of music and restrained audiences. That’s not a Sound of the Rockies show. Three times a year University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts fills with the voices of SOR’s nearly 100 members, singing exciting a cappella in the balanced style of Barbershop Harmony. SOR entertains with a varied repertoire of classic songs, popular show tunes, mainstream music and sing-along medleys combined with award-winning choreography and showmanship. A Sound of the Rockies show is fun, and the power of Barbershop Harmony performed by a full chorus is goosebump-inducing.
“Barbershop is a truly popular American musical tradition,” explains Mark Hale, the multi-award-winning director who has been leading Sound of the Rockies since 2015. Going back to the late 1800s, barbershop harmony was pervasive in African American culture. It grew out of informal gatherings of amateur singers who got together casually in settings like the local barbershop and began to harmonize. It became popular with the minstrel shows and, later, Vaudeville.
“Barbershop started off as a grassroots art form with simple melodies and homespun topics that could speak to anyone,” said Hale. That is the feeling Sound of the Rockies maintains to this day — filling its shows with songs that almost every audience member, no matter their age or background, can know and love.
On March 23, Sound of the Rockies will present its spring show Sing! Sing! Sing! This marks a special year for the chorus because it has the distinct privilege of being the only vocal ensemble from the United States to perform at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day Ceremony in Normandy, France in June. As the chorus looks forward to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, SOR will present a special set devoted to the music of the WW II era. So, Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby fans, get ready!
The show also features fan-favorites from the ’60s and ’70s, recommended by past Sound of the Rockies audiences. So, if Queen, Neil Diamond, John Denver or Simon & Garfunkel are to your liking, be prepared to sing along. (Lyrics will be available to follow during the sing-along medley.)
Special guests, Newfangled Four, an award-winning quartet from California known for its humorous performances, and 52eighty, Sound of the Rockies’ youth chorus, will bring their own styles and passion for barbershop to Sing! Sing! Sing!
As March 23 approaches, Mark Hale is in the final stages of an almost year-long process of preparing his chorus for the big day. Mark compares his role during rehearsals to a coach before a big game.
“My job is to inspire the best in every member of the chorus,” Mark says.
Sometimes it’s through cajoling, sometimes through tough love, and most often through positive encouragement. But as the show gets closer the excitement in the room is palpable.
“Every time the curtain goes up it’s like we are hitting the field or the court, ready for battle,” he explains. “It’s not that we want to beat another team. It’s that we are competing against ourselves to give our audiences the best show experience they’ve had.”
It’s not too late to see Sound of the Rockies in action on “game day.” Seats are still available for both the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances of Sing! Sing! Sing!